The Heart of a Lie by Meg North

Posted by on May 11, 2012 in 19th Century U.S., Featured Book, Historical Research | Comments Off on The Heart of a Lie by Meg North

“The Heart of a Lie,” by Meg North

“Daniel’s Garden” was a huge project that took me many years to research and write. By the time I came to the final draft, I had learned so much about the Civil War era that it was natural to set another story in the 1860’s. However, I wanted to write something quieter, something from a woman’s perspective. A story that was an homage to some of the great women’s fiction that had inspired me, like “Little Women,” “Jane Eyre,” and “Sense and Sensibility.” I also wanted to set it in Portland Maine, my home city where I live.

In February 2009, about the same time I was barreling through the final draft of “Daniel’s Garden,” I curled up one wintery evening to watch the 2005 “Bleak House” miniseries on Netflix-on-demand. I’d never read the Dickens novel. I was drawn to the quiet and strong heroine, named Esther Summerson, and a story about a girl who discovers her real family. I was instantly intrigued and within a short time had created Esther Perry, the main character in “The Heart of a Lie.” She became as familiar to me as my own personality, and her voice flowed out of my head onto the page. It’s a joy to write a character like hers!

Researching Portland’s history was amazing. “The Heart of a Lie” is set in 1868, three years after the Civil War and in the time of Reconstruction, a turbulent post-war era where the country was trying to put itself back together. Portland suffered a massive city-wide fire in 1866, as the result of a botched Fourth of July fireworks display. Ten thousand people were left homeless, and much of the city’s architecture went up in flames. I worked the fire’s aftermath into my story. I can only imagine what it must have looked like in 1868 with the huge construction projects and enormous rebuilding effort. I also created the Vallencourt Architectural Firm, which plays a large part in the story. While the name Vallencourt is fictional, the buildings that still stand in Portland today are definitely real!

I chose two prominent and beautiful Portland homes for the main settings. One is the McLellan house on the corner of Spring and High Streets, the setting for the Curtis house. I spent a happy summer afternoon photographing its interior and researching its original architecture. The second building is the Victoria Mansion on Danforth Street, and I used it as the setting for the Vallencourt house. I’ve taken tours and also visited for Christmas. It’s one of the most beautiful mansions I’ve ever seen. Truly fit for the wealthy Vallencourt family of my story.

The characters really bring this post-Civil War era to life. Esther’s voice was so natural to write that I knew how she’d act and react in her scenes. Lara is sweet and funny, similar to my own bubbly younger sister. Ambrose Curtis’s personality echoes that of Mr. Rochester in “Jane Eyre” – black, brooding and intense. Henry Vallencourt seems formal and stiff, but appearances can be deceiving. Elliot Curtis is so kind and cheerful, while Aunt Curtis and Jane are the witchy mother-daughter pair you’ll love to hate. This story also showcases my love of music. I’ve played piano since I was little, so it was wonderful to choose the pieces of music Esther would play and to play them myself.

Once I had Esther’s character and her 1860’s world, it was simply a matter of writing her story. Since it’s a mystery, “The Heart of a Lie” required pretty intense and deliberate plotting. I had to map out what details I’d reveal, and when and to whom. It was a puzzle that I hope the reader will enjoy figuring out.

I wish you joy in reading and hope you receive as much pleasure from the story as I did writing it!

Meg North, February 14, 2012